Ruth Doan MacDougall: "Ruth's Neighborhood"

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Facebook Columns:: January - March 2021

Current entries are HERE.


March 28, 2021 

           Last week I was hunting through my bookcases for something-or-other when I paused at a faded binding that said, “Robbins Mammoth Collection of Gilbert & Sullivan Songs.” And I thought of a question that has been nagging me whenever I’m singing The Mikado’s “Tit Willow”: in the third verse, is the word “perish” or “vanish”?
           Well, I abandoned my search; I sat down with the songbook. My sister and I grew up listening to the family’s record album of Gilbert and Sullivan songs. The compartment under the piano bench’s lid was a repository of accumulated sheet music and songbooks, including this Robbins one; our mother played the Gilbert and Sullivan tunes. Eventually my piano lessons advanced enough for me to play them—alone at the piano to do my lessons’ homework but instead reading the lyrics over and over, singing, reveling in Gilbert’s words.
           Last April I wrote here about singing:
“People seem to be singing a lot these days to keep their spirits up, and I’ve been joining in. I used to sing around the house, enthusiastically if not always on key. Then after Don died, the house became silent. I realized I must remedy this; I must start singing again, to hear a voice in the house and also to warm my voice up so it wouldn’t be a rusty squawk when my niece phoned each morning.”
           Some of the songs I sing are those I recalled from this songbook, and now I looked in it for “Tit Willow.” (Oh, during my youth how I had had to overcome embarrassment and giggles about that “tit”!) I also looked up the lyrics of other favorites I’ve been singing, songs I’d taught Don and we sang in the car or on any seemingly appropriate occasion. Even when just saying good-bye to go off on an errand, one of us would sing dramatically,  “Farewell, My Own,/ Light of my life, farewell!”
           I read the lyrics for “I’m Called Little Buttercup,” “We Sail the Ocean Blue,”  “Poor Wand’ring One,” “I’ve Got a Little List,” “He’s Going to Marry Yum-Yum,” “A Wand’ring Minstrel I,” and “Three Little Maids from School” (of course, Snowy, Bev, and Puddles). And here is “Tit Willow”:

           On a tree by a river a little Tom Tit
           Sang “Willow, Tit-Willow, Tit-Willow!”
           And I said to him, “Dicky bird, why do you sit
           Singing ‘Willow, Tit-Willow, Tit-Willow’?
           Is it weakness of intellect, birdie?” I cried,
           “Or a rather tough worm in your little inside?”
           With a shake of his poor little head he replied, 
           “Oh Willow, Tit-Willow, Tit-Willow! 

           He slapped at his chest as he sat on that bough,
           Singing “Willow, Tit-Willow, Tit-Willow!”
           And a cold perspiration be-spangled his brow, 
           Oh Willow, Tit-Willow, Tit-Willow!
           He sobb’d and he sighed, and a gurgle he gave,
           Then he threw himself into a billowy wave,
           And an echo arose from the suicide’s grave,
           “Oh Willow, Tit-Willow, Tit-Willow!”

  Now I feel just as sure as I’m sure that my name
   Isn’t “Willow, Tit-Willow, Tit-Willow!”
   That ’twas blighted affection that made him exclaim,
“Oh Willow, Tit-Willow, Tit-Willow!”
  And if you remain callous and obdurate 
[I learned   word in this song!],
   I shall perish as he did, and you will know why,
   Tho’ I probably shall not exclaim when I die,
   “Oh Willow, Tit-Willow, Tit-Willow!”


           Aha, it is “perish,” not “vanish”! 

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


March 21, 2021 

          When St. Patrick’s Day arrived this year, I was still catching up on things after that session with internet problems. But I’d prepared for March 17th in advance! The previous week when I’d gone shopping at the small supermarket in Center Harbor, I had bought—and frozen after sampling—some deli corned beef and a dozen mini-cupcakes with green frosting and shamrock sprinkles.

          In the years since I discovered these cupcakes, they’ve been a tradition, my sweet way of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and remembering my great-grandmother, whose maiden name was Dooley. She died before my sister and I were born so we hadn’t known her, but our mother had loved “Grandma” very much and often talked about her, especially her “sweet disposition,” describing how at the dining-room table Grandma would give the cat tidbits from her plate and Grandpa would say, “Nellie, please don’t do that,” and Grandma would say, “Yes, dear,” and, our mother always concluded, laughing, “Then she’d go her own sweet way.” Feeding the cat. Sweet rebellion.

          Last year Penny gave me a cookbook she’d noticed at a secondhand bookstore, Irish Countryhouse Cooking by Rosie Tinne, copyright 1974. In her foreword, Rosie Tinne explains that for a change from “traditional cottage cooking” she had collected recipes from countryhouses and when she and her husband “started a small restaurant in Dublin in hopes of making ends meet,” they served these dishes. The book jacket says that this restaurant, Snaffles, became “one of the city’s most outstanding haute cuisine restaurants.”

          The list of recipe-contributors includes names such as “The Countess of Altamont,” “The Marchioness of Differin and Ava,” “Lacy Dunsany,” and “The Madame FitzGerald.” The illustrations are engravings; Rosie Tinne warns, “I would like to make it quite clear that, of the engravings featured, the following houses only are open to the public: Castle Coole, Castletown, and Carton House.” The recipes are fascinating, seemingly a combination of the 1970s and the more distant past. I’m sure I would have tried several in my serious cooking years, and I intend to try these two in my lazy cooking years: “Cold Apple and Curry Soup” and “Mushroom Salad.” The latter is almost a no-recipe recipe:

           ¾ lb. button mushrooms—sliced  
           1 tablespoon parsley or chives—finely chopped 
           3 cloves garlic—squeezed [Isn’t that a fun instruction!] 
           8 tablespoons good olive oil juice
           2 lemons salt and pepper 
           Put mushrooms into a salad bowl. Mix in the garlic, parsley, or chives, oil and lemon juice. Season to taste. Marinate for at least 2 hours. The mushrooms will release some oil. Serve with hot toast. 
           St. Patrick’s Day was so sunny and warm that for the first time this year I took my afternoon tea out to the porch—and there in the backyard, under the bird feeder, was the first chipmunk of the season! He might be the one I named Randy last year (because of his eagerness to go courting), but I gave him a new name: Pat. 

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


March 14, 2021 

          In THE CHEERLEADER, Snowy comes home from school and starts readying supper for her parents’ arrival home from work:
          She turned on a burner and got the butter dish out of the refrigerator. One of her mother’s sayings was: “You can always tell what kind of a housekeeper a woman is by looking at her butter dish.” And her mother washed the dish after each stick of margarine was used up.
          This observation didn’t come from my own mother; a college friend once mentioned that her mother said it—and of course I found it so funny it stuck in my mind.
          I thought of it recently when I read in the March 4th issue of the Meredith News that the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen gallery in Meredith is having an exhibit of butter dishes during March. The item gave us some butter-dish history: “The first known butter dish was created by cutlery and hollowware company Simpson, Hall, Miller & Co. around 1880. Before refrigeration many butter dishes had a little chamber to store ice chips in order to keep them cool. Other variants, one notable type called a French butter dish, contained a base full of water instead of ice that surrounded an airtight cup which held butter . . . Participating League juried artists have hand-crafted butter dishes specifically for this exhibit, ‘Pass the Butter.’”
          After reading this, I realized that I no longer use my butter dish at all. I just plunk the plastic tub of Land o’ Lakes butter-and-olive-oil on the table. I wonder what Snowy’s mother would think about that!
          Changing the subject: Hooray, Daylight Saving begins today, and we’re springing forward. The town announced springtime on our online Sandwich Board with a message from “The Road Agent and Selectmen’s Office,” the subject line “Mud Season & Town Roads.” It continued, “Mud season has arrived and our Town Roads will be posted with weight limit restrictions this Monday, March 15. Please avoid using our gravel Town roads as a shortcut or throughway. While we acknowledge the State roads are not in great shape right now either (please drive slowly over the potholes!), less travel on our roads the better while the frost is letting go. Thank you!”
          Back in my early-morning jogging years, when Daylight Saving began in April, I welcomed springing forward but hated the change to darker mornings just as the weather was warm enough to start jogging after a winter of snowshoeing. But eventually the mornings lightened and off I’d go, a notebook and pencil in my pocket. I’d usually come back with a note or two I’d jotted down, to be put in the “Nature” section of my notes file. Some found their way into my novels; some still are waiting for the right spot. I’ve now done a quick flip through them and I saw, amongst other notes: “Spring: the green wet glowing mornings”; “April: pink tints of spring”; “May: soupy pease-porridge smell of green; pollen and seed froth.” Also: “Sunrise the cheap pink of rayon underpants,” an image inspired by Puddles’s antics in Woolworth’s!

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


March 7, 2021 

          As I began planning the new sequel and scribbling notes on the notepads throughout the house before facing the first blank page, by coincidence I came upon two other writers talking about the blank pages we face.
          In the December 2020 issue of the AARP Bulletin, there was an entertaining interview with Margaret Atwood. Here’s an excerpt from the Q&A:

What do you think is the biggest misconception about creativity?
I think one of them is that only geniuses have it. But, in fact, everybody has it because it’s a human thing. It’s just that people employ their creativity in different ways. Some people write. Some people knit. Some people make music. But it all has to do with our human capacity for invention and for seeing things from different points of view.

Are there aspects of your writing that become easier as you age?
No, I’m afraid not. It’s the same blank page with nothing on it. Everybody has that page, and everybody has that moment of having to begin.

          In an article the January 18th issue of Publishers Weekly, “When in Rome” by Victoria Scanlan Stefanakos, thriller-writer Lisa Scottoline was interviewed about her latest novel, Eternal, her first historical novel, which “marks a departure for her in nearly every way.” The article concluded with her saying, “I think all of us writers are in a room cheering ourselves on. Whether you’ve published 30 books or no books, it’s always the same: there’s a blank page and a challenge, and you need to meet it.”
When I think of blank pages, I always think of John Ciardi’s poem “The Gift.” I’ve quoted from it here before. An excerpt:

In 1945, when the keepers cried kaput
     Josef Stein, poet, came out of Dachau
     Like half a resurrection, his other half
eighty pounds still in their invisible grave . . . 

[He recovers and resumes his life.]

   . . . He returned to his post in the library, drank his beer,
      published three poems in a French magazine,

and was very kind to the son who at last was his.
   In the spent of a night he wrote three propositions:
That Hell is the denial of the ordinary. That nothing lasts.
   That clean white paper waiting under a pen

Is the gift beyond history and hurt and heaven.


Poets and poetry. To end on a light note, let’s now sing a belated happy birthday to Edna St. Vincent Millay, who was born on February 22, 1892.  This year on that day, a Maine TV news program celebrated the occasion with her saucy “First Fig” poem on the screen:
          My candle burns at both ends;
             It will not last the night;
                    But, ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
             It gives a lovely light!

And I got out my copy her Collected Poems (on the flyleaf written “To Ruthie, Love from Don 1/19/57”). I found the section from her “A Few Figs from Thistles” collection and checked my memory of “Second Fig”:

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand;
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


February 28, 2021 

           As I mentioned last week, I was intrigued by a cookbook review in Publishers Weekly (January 18th issue; the book will be published in March): The New York Times Cooking No-Recipe Recipes: A Cookbook, by Sam Sifton.
           The review begins, “Sifton, food editor of the New York Times, gathers in this remarkable cookbook 100 purposefully inexact methods for creating delicious meals. Cooking without adhering to standard recipes ‘is a proficiency to develop, a way to improve your confidence in the kitchen,’ he writes, and, accordingly, the recipes are accompanied by measurement-free ingredient lists, a soupcon of insouciance (‘This is a freestyle version of restaurant food’), cheerful tips, and ideas for modifications.”
           In the “Q&A” sidebar, Sifton said, “To me, recipes are sheet music that allow you to play a melody, while a no-recipe recipe is like a chord chart that gives you a rough outline to fill in as you like.” The final question is one I’d never heard before, “If you were a dessert, what would you be?” He replied, “Let’s see, I think I would be a piece of apple pie with a slice of cheddar on top. It’s pretty American, and I’m pretty American. And the cheddar adds a nice savory note at the end.”
           Of course I immediately wondered what dessert I would be. The answer that popped into my mind was: gingerbread. With Hard Sauce, not whipped cream, the way my mother served it. Her Hard Sauce recipe came from a Fannie Farmer cookbook, omitting Fannie’s lemon extract: butter, powdered sugar, vanilla extract.
           I asked my sister what dessert she’d be. She replied, “Lemon meringue pie.”
           And Penny and I have been remembering how Sunday suppers were often a “Hamburg Mess” when our father did some no-recipe cooking. He began browning ground beef in the big cast-iron skillet and added whatever struck his fancy from the fridge and cupboards. As we grew into our teens, we took over. Penny remembers adding onion and tomatoes in some form—whole, sauce, catsup—and maybe beans but not the red kidney beans he and I favored; as she says, the result wasn’t goulash or chili or spaghetti sauce, simply our Hamburg Mess. And she recalls that this was one of her favorite cooking times. What I recall most about the times I was doing the cooking is the chance to experiment with the spices and herbs in the larder—also Worcestershire and Tabasco, so sophisticated!
           In my early-married years I was a careful cook, following recipes faithfully, but eventually I began to wing it, usually with casseroles and soups. I never wrote down some of the results, such as the Night Before Payday Casserole. Some I did, and here’s a favorite I came up with when our garden was full of greens and garlic, my Greens and Garlic Soup:
           Olive oil
           Several cloves of garlic, peeled
           Chicken broth
           Potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
           Swiss chard (or kale or spinach), washed and deveined and torn or cut into small pieces
           Heat oil in Dutch oven. Add garlic. Cook low, covered, 5 minutes.
           Add broth. Bring to a boil; simmer 5 minutes.
           Remove garlic and mash with a fork. Return to broth.
           Add potatoes. Cook covered until barely tender.
           Add chard (or other greens) and cook, uncovered, 2-3 minutes more.
           Add water if consistency needs it. 

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


February 21, 2021 

            At last I went to the library for the first time in a year—that is, I went inside our library. Since the pandemic hit, the foyer has been open to the public, and we can pick up or leave off books on the table and bookcase there, but to go farther indoors you make an appointment to have a half hour as the lone patron. I hadn’t yet done that. However, recently when one of the librarians phoned to say that a book I had suggested had arrived, I realized I yearned to go in, browse, get some audiobooks, and thus I made an appointment.
            Entering the beautiful, familiar interior felt like a homecoming but also emphasized how strange the past year has been. Nancy, the library director, and I talked about this as I browsed.
            For audiobooks, I decided on Jerry Seinfeld’s Is This Anything? and John Grisham’s Camino Winds.  The book awaiting me was The Liar’s Dictionary, by Eley Williams; I’d read a review in Publishers Weekly and it sounded like fun. When I got home and dipped in, I discovered that as the PW review had said, it was “a sheer delight for word lovers.”            
            Reading my issues of PW, I often find reviews of books I’d like to read but I know there isn’t time for them all, alas. A few of examples of reviews I liked are:
            The Glitter in the Green by John Dunn. Hummingbirds!
            Liars: Falsehoods and Free Speech in an Age of Deception by Cass Sunstein. Wow, that title and The Liar’s Dictionary—I can’t imagine why the subject of lying is of interest to me; the reason can’t possibly be the past four years, can it? The last sentence of this review says, “Policy makers and legal scholars will value this astute analysis of how to strike the proper balance between freedom and responsibility.”
            When Women Invented Television: The Untold Story of the Female Powerhouses Who Pioneered the Way We Watch Today by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. One woman was “Virtuoso Betty White [who] ad-libbed her way into being one of the first women to develop a hit daytime talk show (Hollywood on Television).
            And then there’s the review that was of GREAT interest to me, The New York Times Cooking No-Recipe Recipes: A Cookbook by Sam Sifton. Indeed, I may be writing about this idea here soon, and I may be suggesting the book to the library!
            In the January 25 issue of PW, that week’s last page (the “Soapbox” page) was titled and subtitled: “A More Perfect Union: A librarian and educator sees libraries as crucial to bringing people together.” It was written by R. David Lankes, director of the University of South Carolina’s School of Information Science. He concludes, “Our nation may be divided at this moment. But throughout our history we see that when we come together in civil, honest conversations based on facts and science, history and truth, we find commonality. And I believe that our libraries and schools are the essential social infrastructure that will help move us past this dark period in our history.” 

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved

         PARTY; AlSO, PIZZA

February 14, 2021 

           Many, many thanks to the partygoers at the LAZY BEDS book launch party! It was a miraculous event for me, doing my first Zooming get-together and seeing you there, dear friends over the years. Much gratitude to you for spending part of a Sunday in Snowy and Bev’s world. (Yes, Puddles, I hear you; your world too!)
For those who couldn’t attend, Jen made a recording. A link to this video will soon be posted on my Facebook page.
           Another subject, also a happy one: pizza. Last Tuesday, Maine’s WCSH-TV “Morning Report” told me that this was National Pizza Day, and their Daily Stumper Question was: What is America’s least favorite pizza topping? 
Multiple choice: a. Pineapple; b. Anchovies; c. Olives; d. Eggplant
I guessed Eggplant because even though I grew eggplants in our garden and Don admired their beauty and liked them in my Joy of Cooking’s Eggplant Creole casserole, he wasn’t particularly enamored with them otherwise; we tried them only once on a pizza. Two of the “Morning Report” hosts also guessed eggplant. The third guessed anchovies, and he got it right. So did Penny and Thane when I later told them the Stumper.
           Needless to say, the favorite topping in the survey was pepperoni.
Sharon, one of the hosts, remarked that a favorite combo of hers is pineapple and Kalamata olives. I must try that! Don and I sometimes combined mushrooms and Kalamata olives or mushrooms and anchovies . . .  Well! I didn’t have a pizza in the freezer with which to celebrate February 9th, but for supper I assembled a salad full of everything else pizza-like I had on hand, such as Italian-style chicken sausage, tomato, black olives, fresh basil, Parmesan, and anchovies.
           In June 2019 I wrote here about pizza, past and present, quoting from the Henrietta Snow scene in which Snowy and Tom reminisce in an Italian restaurant: 

Snowy said, “We’ve never had pizza together.”
“It hadn’t been invented back then.”
She laughed. “It was just reaching New Hampshire in our teens, or Gunthwaite at least. Julia, Bev’s mother, served the first I ever had, a frozen one. Then we began making them from a Chef Boyardee box. But it was really a college thing.”

           And after that quotation I continued, reminiscing about those college years, “When I was living with my grandparents during non-resident terms, my grandmother Ruth did the cooking but I helped on weekends by making a Chef Boyadee pizza for supper. A rectangular pizza on a cookie sheet. Then one day after work at Beacon Press an office friend walked with me to Boston’s North Station for the commuter trains home, and on the way she took me into a little Italian bakery, where she bought bread and I did too. We talked about pizza, and the next day she gave me her recipe for making pizza from scratch. And thus I graduated from Chef Boyardee.
“And when I joined Don at Keene Teachers’ College, he introduced me to his favorite beer-and-pizza joint.”
           Where we usually had the Pizza Supreme (or whatever it was called) with EVERYTHING on it.
           And now another happy subject: Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


February 6, 2021 

           I’m posting this a day early because tomorrow morning I’ll be getting ready for the Lazy Beds launch party. I apologize for any Saturday/Sunday confusions this may cause!
           Last Monday as I set forth to do errands before Tuesday’s snowstorm, I noticed that Frost Heaves signs had been put up on roads. While I jounced onward over the heaves, I thought optimistically: when Frost Heaves signs appear, can Weight Limit signs be far behind? The latter signs appear in spring’s mud season.
           On Tuesday, Groundhog Day, we got the predicted snowstorm with over a foot of snow, and our New Hampshire woodchucks remained indoors in their burrows still happily hibernating, no chance of seeing their shadows. Another hope for springtime!
On Maine’s WCSH-TV “Morning Report” I learned that a man in Maine had humorously measured the depth of the snow with cans of Moxie stacked up. It measured one-and-a-half cans. I didn’t have any Moxie on hand so I just tried to estimate what the snow in my backyard would measure in cans—not quite a six-pack, depending on drifting?
           Until almost the end of January, that month was mild, with many warnings about thin ice. Because of this and of course the pandemic, there hasn’t been as much ice fishing as usual. Instead of a little village of bob houses on the Squam Lake bay I drove past Tuesday, I saw only a lone fisherman, without a bob house, sitting on a footstool on the ice, his fishing pole over the hole he’d cut. It was such a classic scene; I wished, as I often do, that I were a painter. And it brought back memories I’ve written about, sitting at a hole in the ice with Penny and our father on Lake Winnipesaukee. He did not own a bob house. Chilly—freezing!
           The Laker newspaper has told me that the cold snap at the end of January made it possible for the Great Meredith Ice Fishing Derby to be held February 13-14th, and “This year’s derby will offer more than $50,000 in prizes, with a first prize of $15,000 in cash.” 
           Another Laker article reported on another February 13th event, saying that whether you’re a “spectator, visitor, or ice fisherman, the Wolfeboro Lions Club has something warm and delicious for you . . . [The club] will offer a concession stand at 19 Mile Bay Beach in Tuftonboro, with proceeds supporting the Lions Scholarship funds. There will be homemade chili by Lions Club members, steamed hot dogs, coffee, hot chocolate, and bottled water for sale at the stand.” Although Penny and I had fun picnicking with our father on sandwiches (usually deviled ham) and a thermos of soup (usually Campbell’s tomato) our mother made for us, how we would’ve loved that concession stand—and even more so if it were selling Moxie! 

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


January 31, 2021 

           In Snowy, as our heroine is racing after a herd of cows that’s aimed straight for her garden, I wrote: “An old green Jeep braked at the mailbox.”
And thus Snowy is introduced to Tom’s Jeep. It was inspired by the Jeep that Don and I once owned, and I’ve been thinking about it because in the February/March issue of Reminisce magazine there’s an article about Jeeps: “Over Hill, Dale and Everywhere: The drab green vehicle that powered through wars turns 80 this year.” It was written by Russ Maki, who tells us:
           “Gen. George Marshall called it ‘America’s greatest contribution to modern warfare.’ GIs called it the Jeep, a nickname of obscure origin that may have come from a Popeye cartoon or a light tractor Minneapolis-Moline sold to the Army before World War II . . . 
           “The original concept came from American Bantam, a manufacturer of small vehicles that occasionally served as props in movies (Donald Duck’s cartoon roadster was a Bantam) . . . Willys trademarked Jeep after the war and hired designer Brooks Stevens to adapt it to civilian use.”
           In 1962 we were living in Sharon, Massachusetts, where Don taught English at the high school, but we were hankering to return to the New Hampshire countryside. One of Don’s job interviews that spring was at the high school in Lisbon, NH, north of Franconia Notch in the White Mountains. He was offered the job, he accepted, and then he contemplated our car, a secondhand Volkswagen bug. He mused, “That damn thing won’t make it through the notch, especially in winter.”
On our trip north to the interview he had noticed (of course) a Jeep dealership in Plymouth.
           So we bought a Jeep. A brand-new Jeep, our first new car.  We couldn’t afford it but we convinced ourselves we were being grown-up and virtuous; it was for our safety. (Not to mention fun.) It was green with a white canvas top. Two bucket seats. In back, no seats; metal shelves on the sides. Don had also noticed a sign at a garage in Meredith advertising the installation of another thing new to us, seat belts (lap belts). So he had those put in for our safety. A couple of months later we acquired a border collie puppy, and Don built little wooden fences across the shelves so that Heathcliff (as I’ve mentined before, this was what we named our puppy; ah, English majors!) would be safe in whatever shelf he chose for a seat.
           In Henrietta Snow I wrote:           
           “Into the White Mountains Tom drove, his venerable Jeep chugging along the familiar route up through Franconia Notch. He turned west toward the setting sun.”

           He reaches his and Joanne’s house: 

           “He drove on past a field of clover and Indian paintbrush and turned up his driveway between another field and a lawn. When they moved to Newburgh they had rented the old run-down house and barn on the knoll.” 

           This was the way we’d drive home to our rented house from, say, a visit to our parents’ homes in Laconia. And up through the notch in all varieties of weather the Jeep took us home—most memorably one time in sudden snow when some of the other vehicles were off the road and we went chugging along. 

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


January 24, 2021 

           After Amanda Gorman read her “The Hill We Climb” poem on this cold Inauguration Day, I basked some more in such welcome goodemotions of the day and thought of watching John Kennedy’s inauguration when Robert Frost read his “Gift Outright” in the frosty snow. The young president; the old poet. The reverse of Joe Biden and Amanda Gorman!
           Poems had already been on my mind—and one poem in particular because I’d seen in my five-year diaries that on January 19, 2014, I’d posted a piece here about E. B. White’s poem “Window Ledge in the Atom Age,” his musings on the paper-white narcissus in his window.
           I sometimes have had a paper-white or an amaryllis blooming in the kitchen on the little red-checked-oilcloth-covered table that serves as an extra counter in front of a window. This hadn’t happened this year, so instead I’ve been concentrating my enjoyment on the three pots there, basil and rosemary and lavender wintering over. The basil was a present from Penny. The other two plants I rescued at a garden center last summer, runts of the litter left behind after everybody’s pandemic rush to buy plants. They’re still puny but seem determined. 
           In 2014 I wrote:

“When I planted paper-white narcissus bulbs in a pot this winter, I recited what I could remember of E. B. White’s poem on the subject of paper-whites . . . It’s as much a joy as the paper-whites themselves. Complete with hilarious rhymes for ‘narcissus’!
“Strange that the paper-whites, blooming white against the snowscape out our windows, can bring such hope of spring. Wouldn’t colorful blossoms be a better harbinger? But before the paper-whites bloomed, Don and I watched their green stems and leaves sprouting from the bulbs and we even measured their growth. And that growth of green was the hope.”

           Here’s an excerpt from the poem:

I have a bowl of paper wtar.)

I love this day, this hour, this room,
   This motionless narcissus;
I love the stillness of the home,
   I love the missus.
     (She grows in pebbles in my sun
          And she is like a star.)

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


January 17, 2021 

           When I saw that in the January/February issue of Smithsonianmagazine there was an article about the history of peanut butter, the very first peanut-butter memory that leapt into my mind was my history of peanut butter with Don. During our— er — courtship, when we were — er — cozy enough with each other so we didn’t just say goodnight at the door of my house, we’d go indoors into the kitchen. My parents and sister were asleep upstairs. I’d fetch bread and peanut butter and a plate from the pantry, a knife from a utensils drawer, and we’d sit at the table beside the toaster, me on his lap, and toast the bread, apply the peanut butter, and restore our energy. Quiet laughter; well, from me, giggles.
           The article, written by Kate Wheeling, is titled “Going Nuts: the bizarre sanitarium staple that would become a spreadable obsession.” I thought I sort of knew peanut butter’s history, but the article filled in several blanks. She begins, “North Americans weren’t the first to grind peanuts—the Inca beat us to it by a few thousand years—but peanut butter reappeared in the modern world because of an American, the doctor, nutritionist and cereal pioneer John Harvey Kellogg.” He created “an easily digestible paste for patients at the Battle Creek Sanitarium.”
           Soon Joseph Lambert invented “machinery to roast and grind peanuts on a larger scale.” The peanut-butter business had begun! “A 1908 ad . . . claimed that just 10 cents’ worth of peanuts contained six times the energy of a porterhouse steak.” Meat rationing during World War I increased consumption. Then in 1921 came a big breakthrough when “a Californian named Joseph Rosefield . . . [who] went on to found Skippy” came up with a process of hydrogenation, so at last you didn’t have to stir the oil in.
           I remember my mother’s doing that stirring, so some peanut butters still needed it in the 1940s. Don and I returned to stirring in the 1980s when we began buying peanut butter in whole-foods stores. Then we got lazy and lapsed, but later, searching for salt-free peanut butter in supermarkets, we discovered Teddie’s All Natural Unsalted Peanut Butter and we returned to stirring. And I continue stirring Teddie’s nowadays. But there’s a jar of Skippy in the larder for emergencies.
           Kate Wheeling concludes by telling us that peanut butter even has a role to play in the pandemic: “Yale University’s Dana Small devised a smell test” for Covid-19. “‘What food do most people have in their cupboards that provides a strong, familiar odor?’ Small asks. ‘That’s what led us to peanut butter.’”
           We all associate peanuts with George Washington Carver, and in a sidebar titled “Sustainable,” Emily Moon writes about how he “developed hundreds of uses for them” but his “greatest agricultural achievement [was] helping black farmers prosper, free of the tyranny of cotton.” I remember reading about him in a children’s book from the Laconia library, one of a series I loved, little biographies that had orange covers and silhouette illustrations.
           Ah, peanut butter, with or without grape jelly or marshmallow fluff! I don’t recall doing any cooking with peanut butter except cookies. Maybe fudge? Once a friend made a peanut-butter pie for a get-together, and I was astounded at how good it was, but I didn’t ask for the recipe. However, the other day as I was puttering in the kitchen, the Food Network on the TV, I heard someone mention peanut-butter crostini? What? Later, I Googled and found recipes. 
           So my ruminations have come full circle, back to peanut butter and toast. 

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


January 10, 2021 

          Despite the foreboding feeling that was intensifying before last Wednesday, the scenes were still such a shock, weren’t they. We all are struggling for words — unbelievable, sickening, heartbreaking.
          The next day when I was talking with a friend, she said that her mother had mentioned she’d been thinking about World War II lately; she was in high school back then. I’d been thinking the very same thing! Mine are childhood World War II memories, which I’ve described here before, and the one foremost in my mind is my mother listening to the radio, the sound of a voice yelling, ranting in a foreign language, and a crowd roaring, roaring, roaring.
          Over the past four years I kept having a thought that I’d jokingly summed up by the title of the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Actually, my thought was more about subsequent school years—history lessons in elementary school and history classes in high school and college. I found myself repeating one particular term that, we were taught, had been vitally important to our democracy, “The Great Compromise,” which had created the way the states were represented in the House and Senate. In my memory, teachers had gone on to emphasize the importance of compromise in general. What has happened to this?
          Well, to turn to another and lighter subject, last week I finally had a chance to read the December 24th issue of The Meredith News that had got lost under my paperwork over the holidays. In it I found an update on what was happening to Laconia’s dear old Colonial Theater. I’ve mentioned here before that the Colonial had inspired the movie theater in The Cheerleader:

          “When Snowy was younger, the theater had seemed to her like a palace, its chandeliers and gold scrollwork and dark-red curtain and plush seats so rich and wonderful that she couldn’t believe she was allowed in for just twelve cents, and although now it cost seventy-five cents and she saw its shabbiness, she still retained some of this feeling and tonight the awe was mixed with the trembly excitement of being here with Tom.”

          After the 1950s, the Colonial was eventually chopped up into a “multiplex” and later it closed. Then restoration began, and now in the December newspaper I read the news of its new life: “The Belknap Mill ( . . . a center for award-winning cultural and educational programs) is happy to announce that its new theatre program, Powerhouse Theatre Collaborative, will be hosting virtual opportunities to introduce Spectacle Management to the Lakes Region community. Spectacle Management is the company that will be managing the Colonial Theatre when it opens in 2021. Powerhouse . . . will be the resident theatre company at the Colonial and will be helping Spectacle get to know the local arts community.”
          Let us hope, knock on wood, that there’ll be more good news in the New Year.

© 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved


January 3, 2021

             Last week as I was reading the table of contents in the January-February issue of Yankee magazine, I saw a word I hadn’t seen in decades: Hoodsie. And I was instantly back in childhood, walking down the street from our house to Walter’s Market trying to decide what treat to buy with part of my weekly allowance of twenty-five cents, a candy bar or a Hoodsie.
             Quickly I turned pages to the Hoodsie piece: “Prized Cup: In a world of glamorous specialty ice creams, the no-nonsense Hoodsie keeps a hold on New England’s heart,” by Jessica Battilana. She begins by describing New Englanders’ “beloved ritual: Grabbing the paper tab at its edge, we pull the lid from a Hoodsie Cup, lick it, then scoop the chocolate and vanilla ice cream from the paper cup using the paddle-like spoon.”
             New Englanders! Years ago, I was quite surprised when the editor of my first novel, The Lilting House, gently asked me to rewrite “Hoodsie” in my manuscript because nobody outside of New England would know what I meant. So I either deleted it or changed it to something blah like “individual ice-cream container.”
Jessica Battilana tells us that “HP Hood has been headquartered [in Massachusetts] since its founding in 1846.” And she mentions that “When Hoodsie Cups debuted in 1947, the cups cost a nickel.” Wow, I could have bought a Hoodsie five days a week with my wealth of twenty-five cents! In the magazine’s illustration of Hoodsies, the little spoon looks plastic.  They used to be wooden ones that gave the ice cream a faintly woody taste.
             I hadn’t realized that Hoodsies still existed. But Jessica Battilana told me that “Today you can purchase Hoodsie Cups from ice cream trucks and grocery stores in every state in New England and parts of upstate New York.” Well, the next time I’m in our grocery store I must browse farther in the ice-cream case than just Ben & Jerry’s.
             So I didn’t have a Hoodsie in the house, but I did have another childhood favorite, a box of Animal Crackers, a Christmas present with other fun treats from my niece. I’d forgotten that the box has a little handle, so you could carry it like a pocketbook. But I hadn’t forgotten an “Animal Crackers” poem by Christopher Morley. It’s about having cocoa with them; by some inexplicable oversight I didn’t happen to have cocoa in the cupboard (another note to make on the grocery list after “Hoodsies”), but I did have tea. I opened my copy of Silver Pennies, the children’s anthology, and with my Animal Crackers and tea I began reading:
             Animal crackers, and cocoa to drink,
             That is the finest of suppers, I think;
             When I’m grown up and can have what I please
I              think I shall always insist upon these. 

             What do you choose when you’re offered a treat?
             When Mother says, “What would you like best to eat?”
             Is it waffles and syrup, or cinnamon toast?
             It’s cocoa and animals that I love the most!

  © 2021 by Ruth Doan MacDougall; all rights reserved




Pete   (March 31)
Road Trip  (March 24)
Reviews and Remarks (March 10)
Girl Scouts  (March 3)
Board, Not Boring (February 25)
Postholing & Forest Bathing (Feb 18)
Chocolate (February11)
PW's Spring Previews (February 4)
From Pies to Frost (January 28)
An Island Garden (January 21)
More Sandwich Board (January 14) Nancy (January 7)



Spotted Dick (December 31)
Dashing Through the Cookies (December 24)
Chocorua (December 17)
Senior Christmas Dinner (December 10)
The Sandwich Board (December 3)
Nostalgia (November 26)
Socks, Relaxation, and Cakes (November 19)
Holiday Gift Books (November 12)
Maine (November 5)
Cafeteria Food; Fast Food (Oct 29)
Happy 100th Birthday, Dear LHS! (Oct. 22)
Giraffes, Etc. (October 15)
A Monday Trip (October 8)
Laconia High School, Etc. (October 1)
Christmas Romance
(September 24)
National Potato Month (September 17)
Globe (September 10)
Preserving With Penny (Sept 3)
Psychogeography (August 27)
Bayswater Books (August 20)
"Wild Girls" (August 13)
Kitchens (August 6)
Old Home Week (July 30)
The Middle Miles (July 23)
Bears, Horses, and Pies
(July 16)
Fourth of July 2023
(July 9)
Lucy and Willa
(July 2)

Frappes, Etc. (June 25)
Still Springtime
(June 18)
Wildefires to Dougnnts
(June 11)
In the Bedroom
(June 4)
Dried Blueberries
(May 28)
More Items of Interest
(May 21)
F(ire Towers
(May 14)
Anne, Emily, and L.M.
(May 7)
Earthquake, Laughter, and Cookbooks (Apr30)
Springtime and Poems
(April 23)
Cookbooks and Poems
 (April 16)
 Items and Poems  (April 9)
Two Pies  (April 2)

Audiobooks (March 26)
The Cheeleader
's 50th Anniversary
(Mch 19)
The Lot, Revisited
(March 12)
(March 5)
Parking and Other Subjects (February 26)
Concord (February 19)
Bird Food and Superbowl Food (February 12)
The Cold Snap (February 5)
Laughter and Lorna (January 29)
Tea and Digestive Biscuits (January 22)
Ducks, Mornings, & Wonders (January 15)
Snowflakes (January 8)
A New Year's Resolution  (January 1)


Jingle Bells    (December 25)
Fruitcake, Ribbon Candy &Snowball
.(Dec. 18)
Christmas Pudding (December 11)
Amusements (December 4)
Weather and Woods  (November 27)
Gravy (November 20)
Brass Rubbing (November 13)
Moving Day (November 6)
Sandwiches and Beer (October 23)
Edna, Celia, and Charlotte (Octobert 16)
Sandwich Fair Weekend (October 9)
More Reuntions (October 2)

A Pie and a Sandwich (September 25)
Evesham (September 18)
Chawton (September 11)
Winter's Wisdom? (September 4)
Vanity Plates (August 28)
2022 Golden Circle Luncheon
(August 21)
Agatha and Annie (August 14)
National Dog Month (August 7)
The Chef's Triangle (July 31)
Librarians and Libraries (July 24)
Clothes and Cakes (July 17)
Porch Reading (July 10)
Cheesy! (July 3)

The Summer Book (June 23)
Bears & Goats & Motorcycles ...(June 19)
Tuna Fish (June 12)
Laconia (June 5)
More Publishers Weekly Reviews (May 22)
Shopping, Small and Big  (May 15)
Ponds  (May 8)
The Lakes Region (May 1)
TV for Early Birds; An April Poem    (April 24)
Family; Food; Fold-out Sofas (April 17)
Solitary Eaters (April 9)
National Poetry Month (April 3)
Special Places—Popular Cakes(March 27) Neighborhood Parks ( (March 20)
More About Potatoes—and Maine (March 13)
Potatoes (March 6)
Spring Tease (February 27)
Pillows (February 20)
Our Song (February 13)
Undies (February 6)
Laughter  (January 28/30)
A Burns Night  (January 23)
From Keats to Spaghetta Sauce (January 16)
Chowder Recipes  (January 9)
Cheeses and Chowders  (January 2)


The Roaring Twenties (December 26
Christmas Traditions (December 19)
Trail Cameras (December 12)
Cars and Trucks(December 5)
Return? (November 28)
Lipstick (November 20)
Tricks of the Trade (November 12)
A New Dictionary Word (November 7)
A 50th Reunion (October 31) "
Sides to Middle" Again
(October 23)
Pantries and Anchovies (October 1i7)
Fairs and Festivals (October 10)
Reunions  (October 3) A Lull  (September 26)
The Queen and Others (
Sept. 19)
Scones and Gardens (Sept.12)
Best Maine Diner (September 5)
Neighborhood Grocery Store; Neighborhood Café (August 28)
PW Picks of the Week (August 21)
A Goldilocks Morning_and More (August 15)
Desks (August 8)
Sports Bras and Pseudonyms (August 1)
Storybook Foods (July 25)
Rachel Field(July 18)
The Bliss Point  (July 11)
Items of Interest  (July 4)
Motorcycle Week 2021 (June 27)
Seafood, Inland and Seaside  (June 20)
Thrillers to Doughnuts (June 13)
National Trails Day  (June 6)
New Hampshire Language (May 30 )
Books and Squares(May 23)
Gardening in May (May16)
The Familiar (May 9)
Synonyms (May 2)
"Bear!" (April 25)
Blossoms  (April 18)
Lost Kitchen and Found Poetry (April 11)
More About Mud (April 4)
Gilbert and Sullivan (March 28)
St. Patrick's Day 2021 (March 21)
Spring Forward (March 14)
A Blank Page (March 7)
No-Recipe Recipes (February 28)
Libraries and Publishers Weekly (February 21)
Party; Also, Pizza (February 13)
Groundhog Day (February 6)
Jeeps (January 31) Poems and Paper-Whites (January 24) Peanut Butter (January 17)
Last Wednesday  (January 10)
Hoodsies and Animal Crackers  (January 3)


Welcome, 2021December 27
Cornwall at Christmastime( December 20)
 Mount Tripyramid ( December 13) 
New Hampshire Pie ( December 6)   
Frost, Longfellow, and Larkin ( November 29)
Rocking Chairs ( November 22)
Thanksgiving Side Dishes ( November 15)
Election 2000 ( November 8)
Jell-O and Pollyanna ( November 1)
Peyton Place in Maine  (October 25)
Remember the Reader  (October 18)
Sandwich Fairs In Our Past  (October11)
Drought and Doughnuts  (October 4)
Snacks (September 27)
Support Systems, Continuing (September 20)
The 85 Best Things to Do in New England (Sept
Dessert Salads?! (September 6)
Agatha Christie's 100th Anniversary (August 3
Poutine and A Postscript(August 23)
Pandemic Listening and Reading (August 16)
Mobile Businesses (August 9)
Backyard Wildlife (August 2)
Maine Books (July 26)
Garlic (July 19)
Birthday Cakes (July 12)
A Collection of Quotations  (July 5)
Best of New Hampshire (June 28)
Hair (June 21)
Learning (June 14)
Riding and "Broading" Around (June 7)
Sunday Drives, Again (May 31)
The Passion Pit (May 24)
Schedules & Sustenance (May 17)
Doan Sisters Go to a British Supermarket (April
National Poetry Month 2020 (April 12)
Laconia (May 10)
Results (May 3)
Singing (April 26 )
Dining Out (April 19 )
Red Hill (March 29)
An Island Kitchen (March 22)
Pandemic and Poetry (March 15)
Food for Hikes (March 8)
Social Whirl in February (March 1)
Two Audiobooks and a Magazine(February 23)
Books Sandwiched In   (February 9)
Mailboxes February 2)
Ironing (January 26)
The Cup & Crumb  (January 19)
Catalogs  (January 12)
Audiobook Travels  (January 5)


Christmas Weather  (Dec. 29 )
Christmas in the Village  (Dec. 22)
Marion's Christmas Snowball, Again  (Dec. 15)
Phyliss McGinley and Mrs. York  (December 8)
Portsmouth Thanksgiving.  (December 1)
In the Dentist's Waiting Room, Again.  (Nov. 24
Louisa and P.G.  (November 17)
The First Snow  (November 10)
Joy of Cooking  (November 3)
Over-the-Hill Celebration  (October 27)
Pumpkin Regatta  (October 20)
Houseplants, New and Old(October 13)
Pumpkin Spice  (October 6)
Wildlife  (Sept 29)
Shakespeare and George  (Sept 22)
Castles and Country Houses  (Sept 15)
New Hampshire Apple Day  (Sept 8)
Maine Woods and Matchmaking  (Sept 1)
Reunions  (August 25)
Sawyer's Dairy Bar  (August 18)
Old Home Week  (August 11)
Summer Scenes  (August 4)
Maine Foods (July 28)
Out of Reach  (July 21)
This and That, Again  (July 14)
The Lot  (July 7)
Pizza, Past and Present (June 30)
Setting Up Housekeeping (June 23)
Latest Listening and Reading (June 16)
Pinkham Notch (June 9)
A Boyhood in the Weirs (June 2)
The Big Bear (May 26)
It's Radio! (May 19)
Archie (May 12)
Department Stores  (May 5)
Spring Is Here!  (April 28)
Dorothy Parker Poem  (April 21)
National Library Week, 2019  (April 14)
National Poetry Month, 2019  (April 7)
Signs of Spring, 2019 (March 31)
Frost Heaves, Again (March 24)
Latest Reading & Listening (March 17)
Car Inspection (March 10)
Snowy Owls & Chicadees (March 3)
Sandwiches Past and Present (February 23)
Our First Date (February 17) 
Ice Fishing Remembered (February 10)
Home Ec (February 3)
A Rockland Restaurant (January 27)
Kingfisher (January 19)
Mills & Factories (January 13)
Squirrels (January 6)


Clothesline Collapse   (December 2)
Thanksgiving 2018
(November 25)  
(November 18)
A Mouse Milestone (November 11)
Farewell to Our Magee   (November 4)
Sistering (October 28)
Sears (October 21)
Love and Ruin (October 14)
A New Furnace (October 7)
Keene Cuisine September 30)
A Mini-Mini Reunion (September 23)
Support System  (September 16)
Five & Ten  (September 9)
Dining Out Again  (September 2)
Summer Listening (August 26)
Donald K. MacDougall 1936-2018  (August 19)
Update--Don (August 12)
Telling Don (August 5)
Don's Health (July 29)
Seen and Overheard (July 22)
Donald Hall  (July 15)
Fireworks (July 8)
Off Season (July 1)
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place (June 24)
2018 Motorcycle Week (June 17)
Springtime Sights (June 10)
Seafood at the Seacoast? (June 3)
Lilacs (May 27)
Going Up Brook, revisited  (May 20)
The Weirs Drive-In Theater  (May 13)
The Green and Yellow Time, (May 6 )
Recipe Box and Notebook (April 29)
Henrietta Snow, Second Printing (April 21)
Miniskirts and Bell-Bottoms (April 14)
The Poor Man's Fertilizer (April 7)
The Galloping Gourmet (April 1)
The Old Country Store (March 25; First  FB entry)

Earlier: :Ruth's Neighborhood
(multiple entries, 2011 - 2017)